Centre tables contentious Delhi services bill in LS amid oppn protests

Union Home Minister Amit Shah. File photo: PTI

New Delhi: The Union government on Tuesday tabled a contentious bill in Lok Sabha to replace the Delhi services ordinance amid vociferous protests by opposition members, who termed it a "murder of democracy", evoking a sharp retort of "politically motivated" jibe from Home Minister Amit Shah.

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023, which gives the Delhi Lieutenant Governor a final say on the transfer and posting of officials of the city government, will strengthen the Central government's control over the national capital.

Tabled by Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai, the Bill seeks to reverse the effect of the Supreme Court verdict in May that gave the Delhi government control over administrative services. Rai said he was "tabling the Bill on behalf of Shah."

Opposition members including Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the bill was an "outrageous infringement" of the powers of the Delhi government while Trinamool member Saugata Ray asserted that the Bill was brought to overturn the Supreme Court order that granted Delhi government the authority to transfer and appoint Group-A officers in the national capital.

The Centre had on May 19 promulgated the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Ordinance, 2023 to create an authority for the transfer and posting of Group-A officers in Delhi.

Noting that the real power of administration must rest with the elected arm of the government, the Supreme Court had on May 11 ruled that the Delhi Government has control over services in the National Capital Territory, excluding the matters relating to public order, police and land.

RSP member N K Premachandran and Congress member Shashi Tharoor questioned the legislative competence of the government to table the Bill to replace the ordinance.

"I am questioning the legislative competence of the government in tabling the Bill. It is against the principles of federalism envisaged in the Constitution of India. The elected government in Delhi not having control over the bureaucrats will mean not having a government in Delhi itself," Premachandran said.

As the opposition leaders stormed the well and tore papers and raised objections over the introduction of the Bill, Shah said, "Our Constitution allows the Parliament to make laws for Delhi. Any opposition to this bill has no constitutional basis and is politically motivated. There is no reason for the opposition to cite parliamentary procedure."

Shah said Article 239AA of the Constitution granted Parliament the powers to make laws for the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD).

The Centre and the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government have been engaged in a power tussle over the control of the bureaucracy in the NCT government.

Meanwhile, the Biju Janata Dal extended its support to the Delhi services bill in a boost to the treasury benches, especially in Rajya Sabha.

The BJD is the second party besides the YSR Congress, among those not formally aligned with either the ruling BJP or the opposition, to announce support to the Centre on the Delhi services bill, dealing a blow to the opposition's efforts to cobble together a majority in Rajya Sabha where the treasury benches lack a majority on their own.

AAP Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha said the bill is even worse than the previous ordinance and more against "our democracy, the Constitution, and the people of Delhi".

Terming the bill the most "undemocratic, illegal piece of paper ever tabled in Parliament", he said it essentially snatches all powers from the elected government of Delhi and replaces democracy in Delhi with "babucracy" and will give overriding powers to Lt Governor.

In the Lok Sabha, while Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, BJD, and AIMIM members spoke on the Bill, the Aam Aadmi Party's lone Lok Sabha member Sushil Kumar Rinku was heard complaining to the Speaker that he was not given a chance to speak.

"I was not given a chance to speak...This is the murder of democracy...You are insulting Bhim Rao Ambedkar," Rinku said, amid opposition slogans shouting against the government.

Rinku and Congress member T N Prathapan were also seen throwing papers in front of the Chair.

Amid the din, Speaker Om Birla said that time will be given for everyone to speak and castigated the opposition members for their behaviour.

"This kind of behaviour is not good. The country is watching," he said.

The Opposition has been protesting on the issue since the beginning of the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

While the NDA is comfortably placed in Lok Sabha to get the bill passed with over 330 members, in Rajya Sabha also with the support of BJD, YSR Congress and some nominated and independent members it can cross the halfway mark. The ruling NDA has 100 MPs in the Upper House on its own.

Around 109 MPs from the 26-member opposition bloc INDIA and some Independents such as Kapil Sibal are expected to vote against the bill, a senior leader said.

However, this will still be short of the halfway mark of 120 if all 238 existing members vote that day. The full strength of the House is 243 but there are some vacancies.

Of the 26 parties from the opposition grouping, at least 18 have a presence in Rajya Sabha and have 101 MPs collectively. Besides this bloc, the BRS (seven members) is also likely to vote against the bill.

The Bill has all the major provisions of the ordinance and a few different provisions from it.

In the Bill, there is no mention of a provision incorporated in the ordinance that restricted the state assembly from enacting any law on 'services' but gives the Central government primacy over the Delhi government on the appointment of officers belonging to the All India Services and DANICS.

The Bill also dropped the requirement mandated under the ordinance for the Delhi government to furnish annual reports to the central government.

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